Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton
Alter, Jonathan, Newsweek
Byline: Jonathan Alter
The most powerful couple in politics may find the times suited to their skills.
They're baaaack!!! Just when you thought the Clintons had gone the way of the Macarena and John Wayne Bobbitt--consigned to the dustbin of the 1990s--Hillary and Bill Clinton are about to blast into our lives again, with all the excitement that might mean for them, for us and for the world. Like major movie stars, they may find second acts in high-quality supporting roles that might just display their talents better than when their names had top billing on the marquee.
Of course, we don't know yet how comfortably Hillary will work in harness as secretary of state under President Barack Obama. We don't know if Bill will be able to improve his strained relationship with Obama enough to be trusted with the kind of major diplomatic assignment he would crave. And we don't know how the world's most chronicled marriage will play out on the world stage.
But certainly this Featured Return Engagement offers them both a huge opportunity. Preoccupied with economic woes at home, Obama simply won't have time to spend a big chunk of his first year in office on the road. In many ways the crucial restoration of America's prestige in the world will fall instead to the Clintons. The couple are already so popular abroad that when they land at a foreign airport, they can hit the tarmac running on all the bilateral and multilateral issues they know so well.
Hillary Clinton will be an exceptionally knowledgeable and hardworking secretary of state. She didn't just visit more than 80 countries as First Lady and senator, she met all the key players and developed a complex understanding of global challenges. Her reputation as a tough-minded hawk will make it easier to bargain from a position of strength. Contrary to the theory of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and others, foreign diplomats aren't likely to find daylight between Obama and Clinton to exploit. Their substantive differences have always been slight and will grow slighter as Obama's "team of rivals" becomes, as it did under Lincoln, just a team. And in turf disputes, she might have to dull her sharp elbows to fit the new "No-Drama Obama" ethic.
Hillary's greatest potential weakness is that she isn't always a good judge of others, as we learned from the way she surrounded herself with so many arrogant losers during the campaign. This failure to accurately read people can be a serious handicap during negotiations, an area where Hillary has little experience. And so far, she has shown no sign of being a bold strategic thinker, though the repair work before her might not require it.
If Obama decides to deploy him properly, Bill Clinton will be a terrific troubleshooter, perhaps in tandem once again with his old rival, George H.W. Bush. He could pick up in the Middle East where he left off in 2000, except this time the main obstacle to peace--Yasir Arafat--is dead. He still knows every street in Jerusalem, every pressure point in the peace process. …